Medical laboratory tests play a major role in the healthcare system, with physicians ordering billions of tests each year and basing crucial medical decisions on the results. However, according to a study by The Lewin Group that was commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,1 errors in clinical medical laboratories are a significant problem, and patient and/or specimen misidentification is one of the primary causes of lab errors.
Despite the best efforts of clinical laboratory professionals, conditions exist in many labs that make it difficult for them to avoid errors. Slides are often exposed to harsh chemicals that can erode the labels that are applied to the slide prior to the staining process. Opportunities for errors are multiplied when laboratorians attempt to label slides manually or match specimens with printed labels, especially when the labels are produced away from the work area. These types of procedures can result in the wrong label being applied or in illegible handwritten slide labels being matched with the wrong patient.
The results of mislabeled lab specimens can be disastrous for patients, for physicians, and for the reputation of the hospital or other testing facility. In an attempt to reduce the incidence of medical errors, to improve outcomes, and to control costs, many healthcare systems and regulating organizations have renewed their focus on process excellence at all points along the care continuum, including lab testing.
It may be impossible to ensure 100% error-free labeling, but labs can take advantage of new direct-to-slide printing technology to reduce the risk of specimen misidentification—and to improve internal efficiency. Slide printing technology, which enables high resolution printing directly onto slides, can provide the following benefits:
- On-demand, color printing: On-demand printing can help labs reduce errors by enabling technicians to print only the number of slides they need when and where they need them. Color printing capabilities can help labs operate more efficiently by eliminating the need to maintain inventory of slides in multiple colors.
- Chemical and heat-resistant slides: Harsh lab conditions may degrade the ink used in slide identification, which can increase the possibility of specimen identification errors. The advanced inks for direct-to-slide printers can withstand xylene, alcohol, reagent, stain, heat, and chemicals, thereby, reducing the incidence of errors.
- Direct slide printing: Printers that enable technicians to print directly onto slides can reduce the risk of errors due to illegible handwritten labels. Direct slide printing also eliminates the risk of labels falling off slides or becoming jammed in slide processing equipment.
- Small printer footprint: When lab personnel send label or slide print jobs to a central printer, there’s a risk of technicians picking up the wrong slides. Technology that shrinks slide printer size down to desktop dimensions can enable labs to provide a printer for each workstation, eliminating that risk.
- Customizable software options: Labs can operate more efficiently with customizable software that enables the use of templates to ensure the collection of all necessary data. Customizable software also allows labs to generate data for laboratory information systems (LIS).
- Laboratory medicine: a national status report. The Lewin Group. www.futurelabmedicine.org. Accessed October 21, 2012.
Slide printers that are on the market offer these advanced features. The latest slide printers can also print high resolution images to enable labs to use graphics, logos, and 2-dimensional barcodes on slides to enable clear identification and tracking.
When choosing a slide printer, it’s important for lab purchasing agents to ensure that they procure a model that will help the facility meet its error reduction and efficiency goals. Features to look for include efficient, hands-free operation and cartridges that enable lab personnel to store slides with minimal exposure to dust and contaminants that might affect specimen quality.
Another important consideration is cartridge design: Decision makers should look for cartridges that enable quick changes so that lab technicians can easily switch cartridge types to accommodate standard and charged slide needs. It’s also a plus if technicians can quickly ascertain the number of slides remaining in the cartridge to expedite printing.
Durability is also an important feature. A slide printer should be rugged enough to withstand harsh lab conditions, be water resistant, and be capable of withstanding disinfection from standard hospital cleaning products.
Finally, price is important: Slide printers come in many sizes and configurations and offer a wide range of features. Before making a purchase, lab purchasing agents should ensure that they are getting the most value for their investment.
Nothing is more important than patient safety, which is why it makes sense for lab facilities to frequently evaluate their processes and ensure that they are managing risks effectively. When it comes to specimen misidentification, there are clear steps lab personnel can take to minimize the possibility of errors.
Using advanced slide printer technology can be an excellent option. With the right slide printer, labs can streamline technician workflows and significantly improve efficiency. Most important of all, they can provide their staff with the best possible tools to ensure accurate slide processing that enables optimal patient care.